Be­hind the Scenes

Drag Racer - - Over Center -

THE LATE WALLY PARKS WAS QUITE A VI­SION­ARY. AS MOST MO­TOR­SPORTS EN­THU­SI­ASTS KNOW, THE FOUNDER OF THE NA­TIONAL HOT ROD AS­SO­CI­A­TION DE­VOTED HIS ADULT LIFE TO HOT RODDING AND DRAG RACING, PRO­MOT­ING SAFE, OR­GA­NIZED COM­PE­TI­TION AND REACH­ING OUT TO THE COM­MU­NITY TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL. Today, the ed­i­fice that bears his name, the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum, con­tin­ues with that vi­sion. It should also be noted that the Au­to­mo­bile Club of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has long sup­ported Wally’s dream and is the pre­sent­ing spon­sor of the mu­seum and the Cal­i­for­nia Hot Rod Re­union.

With the help of many, in­clud­ing the late John Zen­de­jas, Steve Gibbs, Wayne Phillips and long­time Cu­ra­tor Greg Sharp, Wally’s dream was re­al­ized. Af­ter many years of plan­ning and ac­quir­ing im­por­tant ve­hi­cles (a num­ber of which were on loan) that played a role in hot rodding’s growth, the then His­tor­i­cal Ser­vices Divi­sion of the NHRA first opened in a small in­dus­trial unit ad­ja­cent to the famed Auto Club Pomona Race­way. Then, in April of 1998, the mu­seum for­mally opened its doors with nearly 50 cars and a size­able col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bilia at its cur­rent lo­ca­tion.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the 28,500-sq-ft fa­cil­ity lo­cated at 1101 W. McKin­ley Av­enue in Pomona, Cal­i­for­nia (ac­cess at Gate 1 in the south­east cor­ner of the Los Angeles County Fair­plex) has grown its col­lec­tion, been re­mod­eled and em­barked on a num­ber of pro­grams de­signed to in­tro­duce Amer­i­can hot rodding to the pub­lic—es­pe­cially young peo­ple.

Today, vis­i­tors to the mu­seum are greeted by the Chris­man,

Brinker Gallery of Speed (de­buted mid-2014), which in­cor­po­rates in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays, sculp­tures and other im­por­tant items to help tell the story of Amer­i­can hot rodding. Ac­tu­ally, strate­gic plan­ning for the “new” Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum started about five years ago, and many com­po­nents (the Chris­man, Brinker Gallery among them) are be­ing ful­filled. The mu­seum has es­sen­tially been or­ga­nized into sec­tions that tell the story of hot rodding’s ori­gins, street rods, lakes racing and, of course, drag racing.

The mu­seum’s suc­cess starts with the pas­sion and lead­er­ship that comes from the mu­seum’s board of di­rec­tors, many of whom are hot-rodding legends them­selves. The mu­seum’s com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion and the sto­ries th­ese ve­hi­cles can tell have been nur­tured by cu­ra­tor ex­traor­di­naire Greg Sharp (un­ques­tion­ably the na­tion’s most qual­i­fied keeper of hotrod­ding his­tory and the sub­ject of a pre­vi­ous “Be­hind the Scenes” col­umn), but there’s a new kid on the block who’s been in­stru­men­tal in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of many pro­grams: Larry Fisher, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum.

Fisher, who came aboard in Au­gust of 2012, is not only a car guy, he also brings to the po­si­tion 20-plus years of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the mu­seum and ex­hi­bi­tion field. He was the CEO and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum and Amer­ica’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bris­tol, Rhode Is­land, and has been a con­sul­tant to the Henry Ford Mu­seum and Green­field Vil­lage in Dear­born, Michi­gan. Fisher also worked for Walt Dis­ney’s Imag­i­neer­ing group, world renown for cre­at­ing themed dis­plays, and was pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bar­num and Cir­cus World mu­se­ums.

The Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, na­tive has racing in his blood. His fa­ther raced sports cars with the SCCA, and his mother did some drag racing as a teenager. Fisher spent a num­ber of years out of school work­ing as a ma­chin­ist and fab­ri­ca­tor for the late Dick Guld­strand, a hot rod­der who be­came one of the world’s fore­most Corvette and Ca­maro road rac­ers.

The en­tire mu­seum staff, in­clud­ing Rose Dick­in­son, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and op­er­a­tions, has been an es­sen­tial com­po­nent in main­tain­ing its mo­men­tum.

Among Fisher and the mu­seum’s goals are to get young

//It goes with­out say­ing that vis­it­ing the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum is a must for any drag racer or car guy. And there’s a gift shop that has a plethora of re­ally cool stuff.

peo­ple ex­cited about mo­tor­sports tech­nol­ogy and the many re­lated ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. The mu­seum is plan­ning a science and tech­nol­ogy gallery, and de­vel­op­ing stu­dent pro­grams with Cal Poly Pomona and the Fre­mont Academy of En­gi­neer­ing & De­sign, which is a pub­lic high/mid­dle school (grades 7-12) that fo­cuses on STEM (Science, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing and Math) ed­u­ca­tion. There’s a huge need to get kids to have tools in their hands in­stead of a smart phone.

How can we help the mu­seum achieve its goals? First and fore­most by be­com­ing a mem­ber of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Mem­ber­ship comes with a va­ri­ety of ben­e­fits and spe­cial event op­por­tu­ni­ties. An im­por­tant part of the mu­seum’s fund­ing comes from the Cal­i­for­nia Hot Rod Re­union in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia, and the Hol­ley Na­tional Hot Rod Re­union in Bowl­ing Green, Ken­tucky. Par­tic­i­pa­tion and at­ten­dance at th­ese sem­i­nal events also helps pay the bills. You can pur­chase 1320 Club plaques in the name of any in­di­vid­ual or fam­ily (they’re 5x12-inch sil­ver and ma­roon plaques dis­played in the mu­seum). Do­na­tions to the non­profit 501(C)(3) or­ga­ni­za­tion are al­ways wel­come.

It goes with­out say­ing that vis­it­ing the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum is a must for any drag racer or car guy. And there’s a gift shop that has a plethora of re­ally cool stuff. Mu­seum hours are Wed­nes­day through Sun­day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus spe­cial events and cruise nights. Check ev­ery­thing out at Nhra­mu­seum.org. When you visit the mu­seum, try to bring along a young per­son or two.

/Lo­cated in the south­east cor­ner of the Los Angeles County Fair­grounds (aka Fair­plex), the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum does an ad­mirable job of telling the story of hot rodding and drag racing.

/Note­wor­thy race cars are, of course, a fo­cal point of the mu­seum, with cars ro­tat­ing on dis­play to keep things fresh. Here’s a shot from a few years back that show­cases the cars of John Force, Tom McEwen, Gas Ronda, Can­dies & Hughes and a pair of Farkonas-CoilMin­nick Chi-Town Hustlers.

/Mu­seum Cu­ra­tor Greg Sharp is un­ques­tion­ably one of the world’s lead­ing au­thor­i­ties on the his­tory of hot rodding and drag racing.

/NHRA founder Wally Parks was in­ter­viewed by Dave McClel­land on the oc­ca­sion of the mu­seum be­ing of­fi­cially known as the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum. The mu­seum was a long-held dream of Parks.

/In ad­di­tion to be­ing a car guy, Mu­seum Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Larry Fisher brings more than 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence in the mu­seum and dis­play fields to the post.

/The mu­seum’s board of di­rec­tors in­cludes (L to R top row): Dave McClel­land, Glenn Cromwell, Gale Banks, Tom McKer­nan, Wayne McMurtry, Steve Gibbs and Jack O'Ban­non. Linda Louie and Alex Xy­dias are seated.

/Fit­tingly, Art Chris­man’s fa­bled #25 flathead-pow­ered drag­ster and the later Al­bert­son Olds su­per­charged Oldsmo­bile rail greet vis­i­tors to the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum in the Chris­man, Brinker Gallery.

/The Mu­seum hosts many spe­cial events, among them a Wed­nes­day night cruise dur­ing the sum­mer months.

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